A Reader Asks:
After the Windows 10 upgrade process completes, my rear Dolby Surround Sound 5.1 speakers don’t work.
I found out about the issue when iTunes and Windows Media player didn’t play sound out of the rear speakers after the upgrade. The speakers produce sound when they are tested in Control Panel/Sound/Manage Audio Devices/Configure, but the applications do not seem to use them. How can I get the applications to use all the speakers?
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I also configured the sound system to use 5.1 Dolby Surround in Speaker Setup (sound standards explained) and tested that all speakers are working properly. As mentioned above, the speakers work fine, but the audio still won’t work. There’s just a buzzing from the rear speakers.Kannon’s Reply:
When troubleshooting computer gremlins, technicians lump problems into two general categories: Hardware and software. I also include a third category called firmware, but that’s besides the point.
In your case we don’t need to know anything other than that your sound system’s underlying hardware works. Therefore, we must conclude that Windows 10 somehow broke your audioconfiguration (10 reasons toupgrade to Windows 10). To get to the bottom of this mystery, a technician should list the peculiarities of the case:
- The computer was upgraded to Windows 10.
- Audio is not working in applications.
- Audio works when tested in Manage Audio Devices.
Judging from the fact that your audio worked before the upgrade, we can safely speculate that the problem originates with the software and not hardware or firmware. Based on this data, we want to narrow the potential causes down through testing (which you’ve already done). We know that the Operating System (OS) recognizes the audio drivers, but for some unknown reason the OS doesn’t default to the correct audio hardware.
For the sake of comprehensiveness, we’ll first cover a factor that complicates OS upgrades: An audio sub-system can consist of several kinds of audio outputs, which depends on your motherboard or any internal or external audio devices plugged into your rig. You can pick any of these components as the default audio device.
Some general strategies exist for fixing audio problems. For those interested, please read Guy’s guide to troubleshooting audio problems. For tips on how to resolve boot problems, check out James Bruce’s article on how to diagnose hardware problems.Motherboard Audio Outputs
Depending on the age and design of your motherboard, you might have any of the following audio connectors:
- Frontal 3.5″ audio (consisting of speaker, microphone, and/or multichannel audio)
- Rear 3.5″ audio (consisting of speaker, microphone, and/or multichannel audio)
- HDMI rear audio/video
- S/PDIF optical rear audio (either coaxial or optical)
- USB audio (technically an external device)
- DisplayPort audio/video
- Serial port audio (archaic)
There’s a few complicating factors that can dramatically reduce the likelihood of a successful upgrade. The older a computer, the more archaic its audio subsystem. The big divide occurred when Intel and AMD moved from discrete audio systems, with its own audio chip on the motherboard, to system-on-a-chip (SoC) technology, which integrates the audio subsystem onto the CPU die. When this shift occurred, it greatly simplified the drivers involved, which made hardware upgrades easier, since they dealt with fewer chipset providers.
Laptops can include audio output in a similar fashion, although modern devices dispense with rear ports, electing to place such connectors on the left and right sides of the device. Anyway, the problem seems related to your recent upgrade to Windows 10, so we start the troubleshooting process there.Step One: Check Device Manager
Normally, I would suggest that you check Windows Device Manager to see if any devices aren’t recognized by Windows 10. In your case, though, these driver should be recognizable to the OS.
In Windows 10, type Device Manager into the Search bar.
Device Manager should reveal itself at the top of the screen. Select it with a left-click.
If you see any icons with a yellow symbol superimposed, that means the driver exists, but suffers from problems. If it’s gray, the driver corresponds with an unknown device. In this case, you must track the driver down (and it may not exist).Step Two: Check Windows Audio
Windows Audio can control which audio port outputs sound. As mentioned above, some devices can include multiple audio devices and the OS doesn’t know which one you want to use. It appears that you’ve already taken this step, but in case you haven’t, here’s some quick instructions:
First, type Sound into the Windows Search bar.
Next, select Sound located at the top of the results.
In the Sound settings menu, you’ll notice multiple audio devices. You didn’t indicate the specific audio output you were using, but whatever it is, you would select Set Default and hit OKfrom the bottom of the screen. It sounds as if you missed this very crucial step. If you did, the issue would appear identical to your own.
If that doesn’t work, proceed to the next step.Step Three: Update, Uninstall, and Reinstall
Microsoft recommends, in this case, updating your device driver. However, your audio appears to already work, so we won’t cover that step in lavish detail. The quickest way to update an audio driver in Windows 10 is to right-click on it in device manager and select Update Driver.
Sometimes, uninstalling and reinstalling an audio driver can solve the issue. Since it’s the rear audio ports which don’t work, you might want to consider uninstalling them in Device Manager, restarting the computer, which should automatically reinstall the drivers.
If that still doesn’t solve the issue, you might want to try visiting the site of whomever designed the audio component on your motherboard–in all likelihood, this would be RealTek. You can visit their driver download page here. Keep in mind that some manufacturers modify RealTek’s driver, so installing the vanilla version may break your computer. You were warned.If All Else Fails: Check the TechNet Forums
Normally, we would start with a diagnostic related to the various subsystems of Windows audio. However, as you’ve already mentioned, Windows 10 produces sound, but applications do not. Others may have experienced the same issue when upgrading to Windows 10.
My colleague Bruce Epper suggests using the Windows 10 forums, located over at Microsoft and searching for “Windows 10 audio” to see if any hits show up. A quick scan of the Windows 10 Insider forums reveals several topics similar to your own. There’s a virtual maze of potential fixes, but don’t get discouraged. There’s probably an answer out there, if you look hard enough.We Can Help You Too!
We helped this reader. We can help you, too. Got a burning question, or a tech problem you need solved? Just click the button above! And, of course, please leave any feedback or comments in the comments below!
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